Hymns: Choices






Music Without a Keyboard Player

Adrian Worsfold
Submitted to The Inquirer (20121114)

It is said that to achieve best practice across an institution we should collaborate and share. So here is my offering regarding music provision when there is no keyboard player. I 'returned' to Unitarianism in 2010 to find a church during the service taking out and putting in CDs and finding the tracks for hymn tunes in a player. It made for inadequate worship.
The first thing I did on taking over was go behind a curtain and this was accompanied by making a CD in advance with all the music prepared. Using a domestic CD player wasn't loud nor positioned well enough and I oversaw the installation of a powerful system that integrated a double CD player and mixer with all the inputs (including microphones, radio) and outputs (including hearing loop) needed. Each week two identical CDs are prepared because there is a higher level of output for hymns than for incidental music, and it is clearer and quicker to move between CDs than alter the sliders, sometimes at speed. Plus one CD might be faulty. The player tells how much time is left on a track and can be set to play a single track and stop; it also starts a new track at the beginning of the sound and not the silent gap before (that I still build in for margins of error in case of using domestic CD players).
Behind the scenes the key to improving performance has been building a resource of hymns and other music for use in worship. Sources are very useful Unitarian choir CDs, that have been made with varying degrees of quality, but these days audio editing allows improvements to originals. There are choir recordings elsewhere that can fit Unitarian hymn books. There are websites that offer recordings of public domain hymn tunes which then can be edited for verse numbers and to, say, slow down and lower the range of notes. There are occasional good offerings (sometimes in videos). Then there are music samples available and, finally, software to compose from the hymn book with synthetic instrumental output.
There are two kinds of sound file that are relevant here. One is audio like the WAV file and MP3, where the sound is that of the real world but the computer does not 'know' what it is. The other is the music file where the minimum particle is the note that can join a synthetic instrument and has timing. This file, usually a MID, can transfer to displaying musical notation in a way that an audio file cannot, and its instruments and timing can be changed. It is easy to convert a music file of these notes to audio files, and thus on to an audio CD, but it is difficult for any software to 'listen' to an audio file and interpret it as notes.
As a result, I have now sourced and either audio or music edited a tune for every hymn in Hymns for Living and usually with the original as given. There are most from Sing Your Faith. A few hymns exist from other books. I have a website page that lists all these hymns and this is for the information of service takers.
Where they have been created as music files, or samples have been subjected to considerable editing, I leave a MID synthetic sample of the tune, a transferable XML file between music composing software and a PDF display of the sheet music usually with the hymn lyrics. (A PDF file is like a print out but sent to a file - thus always looks the same; an XML file uses what was extended from HTML to code and position everything musical).
This page accompanies another page where I have gathered together all the hymns' verses I have word processed.
The idea is that all this material is transferable. The uncompressed Hymns for Living files occupy four DVDs as storage WAVs ready to become audio files on CDs. Sing Your Faith needs much more in the way of transferring the music from the book via composing software.
There is also a webpage to extract titles and lyrics from the XML files - the XML coding allows this intervention whereas to extract text from a Music PDF file is to be left with all the right words but in the wrong order, although software exists to extract back the music.
Go to the Pluralist website, the Spiritual area and the hymns section. The material continues to build up. Service takers should consult this. Here is the background preparation for the weekly preparation and the church music system that lets us sing to some of the best played music in the world and offers an approach that integrates all the music within divine worship.


 Adrian Worsfold